Saturday, September 27, 2008


As a child, I was kind of captivated by the stories of Mahabharata and Ramayana. The stories of valour, sacrifice and intrigue left a deep impression on my mind. As I grew older, many of these stories went into a kind of ‘hiding’. When I was standing in front of the panels of Shyam-Rai and Jor-Bangla temples of Bishnupur, depicting the stories of these epics , a few of the stories did come out of the hiding !

Panel on Jor-Bangla Temple, Bishnupur

One of the stories is that of kidnapping of Rama and Lakshmana by Mahiravana. A Tale of valour and grotesque! A Tale of two relatively unknown 'rakshasas', one of them died within hours of birth, but not before he fought hard with Hanuman!

The story goes like this : Ravana is crestfallen after death of Indrajit, his beloved son, one of the greatest warriors of Ramayana. His mother rebukes him for his folly of entering into enmity with Lord Rama. At the end of her tirade, Nikasha reminds Ravana that one of his sons, Mahiravana can be called and sent to fight Rama and his army.

Mahiravana is a great warrior and a king of 'Patala' ( it literally means : below ground level. Was that a region down south of Aryabarta ?) From Krittibasi Ramayana, it is not clear to me if Ravana sired him during a campaign to 'Patala' or he was one of the sons of Mandodari, principal queen of Ravana.

Mahiravana is a great devotee of 'Mahamaya' ( the Mother Goddess) and knew a lot of tricks or magic, apart from being a great warrior. He joins Ravana’s battle against Lord Rama when called and planned to kidnap him and Lakshmana, take them to his kingdom and sacrifice them in front of Mahamaya.

The army of Rama encircles him and Lakshmana in the night and Hanuman stays in the gate to guard the gate to ensure Mahiravana does not trick an entry into this circle. But, he does become successful. He comes repeatedly to the gate of this protective circle dressing up as various family members of Rama. He observes every time Hanuman asks him wait for Biveeshan ( Ravana’s brother who joined Rama , taking side of ‘Virtue’ in a battle between good and evil) to come and approve the visitor. He fools Hanuman by appearing as Biveeshan, goes inside the circle , put Rama and Lakshmana and all the monkeys guarding them asleep and takes them away into ‘Patala’ creating a deep tunnel.

Hanuman, in remorse, goes into the tunnel and learns from the tattle of an elderly woman of the beautiful city Mahiravana rules that Rama and Lakshmana will be sacrificed next day in the temple of Mahamaya. When Mahiravana stoops low in front of the Goddess to demonstrate to Rama how to prostrate in front of the deity, Hanuman beheads him with Her sword .

Hanuman cannot bring back Rama and Lakshmana immediately. Mahiravana’s widow, who is pregnant , regroups the army and puts up a tremendous fight .She gave birth to Ahiravana , a four-headed demon, when Hanuman kicks her in the stomach to subjugate her. Ahiravana gives Hanuman a tough fight too. Slippery with mucus and blood, catching Ahiravana becomes difficult for Hanuman. He throws dust on this infant demon to get a grip on his legs and crashes him to death.

Not a pleasant Tale at all!

Hanuman moves away from the thrashed body of Ahiravana

Here is the scanned copy of the illustration from Krittibasi Ramayana, edition of 1949 AD. The introduction to the 1st edition of this book was written by late Dineshchandra Sen, the famous Bengali historian.

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